New UK NNL study supports the ability of the NuScale Power Module to reduce plutonium stockpiles
NuScale Power announced the completion of a study commissioned from the UK National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) supporting the suitability of NuScale’s world-leading Small Modular Reactor technology for the effective disposition of plutonium. It is the second proposal for use of reactor technology to dispose of surplus plutonium in the UK. The first is the GE-Hitachi PRISM reactor which is based on the design of the Argonne West Integral Fast Reactor.
The NNL study in the UK evaluated scenarios with partial and full-core loading of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel and confirmed that MOX could be used in the NuScale core with minimal effect on the reactor’s design and operation.
The study also demonstrated that a 12-module NuScale plant with 100% MOX cores could consume a 100 metric-ton stockpile of discharged plutonium in roughly 40 years, during which time it would generate approximately 200 million megawatt-hours of carbon free electricity.
The NuScale Power ModuleTM is an innovative and flexible technology with the potential to be fueled by either conventional light water reactor fuel or MOX fuel.
The reprocessing of plutonium into MOX fuel for civil nuclear reactors has been realized in several countries, including France, Japan, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany. The primary advantage of using MOX fuel is to use the huge energy content of plutonium and to degrade its isotopic composition making it much less attractive from a proliferation viewpoint. It also helps to improve fuel resource utilization by reducing the demand for enriched uranium.
NuScale CEO John Hopkins commented, “This is an important step in the continued development of additional flexibility of the NuScale Power Module to operate on various fuel forms. This capability will help support the continued establishment of the NuScale Small Modular Reactor as the technology of choice for commercialization in worldwide markets.”
Dan Mathers, NNL Business Leader for Fuel and Reactors, said, “The National Nuclear Laboratory has been pleased to work with NuScale on a commercial basis to help demonstrate the capability of their SMR in relation to MOX fuel. Reuse of the plutonium for low carbon power generation could be a valuable way forward for dealing with the UK’s nuclear legacy.”
The UK holds the world’s largest stockpile of civil plutonium material. More than 100 metric tons are managed safely at Sellafield in North West England, but the UK Government has said that this situation needs to be addressed through either re-use or disposal.
One of the options under consideration is AREVA’s Convert proposal, which would reprocess the UK’s stockpile of plutonium into MOX fuel using technology proven over 40 years in France. AREVA has already been working with NuScale, having signed a contract in December 2015 to manufacture conventional fuel assemblies for the NuScale Power Module and provide a variety of engineering and testing services associated with the NuScale design.
NuScale is developing a 50 MW small modular reactor based on conventional light water reactor design concepts. The firm plans to submit an application to the NRC by the end of 2016 for safety design review.
GE Hitachi option for disposition of UK plutonium stockpile
The world of advanced reactor development efforts is full of R&D sandboxes, but one proposal stands out. GE-Hitachi (GEH) is developing a 311 MW liquid metal (sodium) cooled reactor based on the Integral Fast Reactor design.
The firm has submitted an unsolicited proposal to the UK Nuclear Decomissioning Authority (NDA) to burn surplus plutonium as a way to dispose of it. The GEH plan calls for two units each with its own turbine.
According to GEH the facility could be built in as little as three years. However, like all other new reactor projects, it would have to pass through the UK Generic Design Review. It is unclear whether the government’s regulators have the means to assess the safety of the new design.
The GEH reactors are intended not only to provide electrical power, but also to solve a major problem for the NDA. It has a large inventory of plutonium from spent fuel and also UK defense sources. Burning it in the PRISM reactors would be a path to safe disposition and would remove the need for a large, permanent geologic repository for it.
GE Hitachi is designing an Advanced Recycling Centre (ARC) which integrates electrometallurgical processing with its PRISM fast reactors. The main feed is used fuel from light water reactors. The three products are fission products, uranium, and transuranics, which become fuel for the fast reactors (with some of the uranium).
A full commercial-scale ARC would comprise an electrometallurgical plant and three power blocks of 622 MWe each (six 311 MWe reactor modules).
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